Grape varieties

If you are a commercial grower, grape varieties that can be grown in the UK are restricted; furthermore what you can call you wine is also restricted but these considerations are not important to the amateur.

Because of the limited number of corrective sprays available to the amateur, it is very important to consider disease resistance when buying vines. Newer varieties have been bred with this in mind - in addition to flavour!
The grape that is probably most widely planted in the UK is a variety called Seyval Blanc and can be found in a great many commercial vineyards, including Denbies Vineyard (the largest in the UK). It is a hybrid that can be relied upon to crop well; it has a good flavour and shows good resistance (but not total immunity) to most vine diseases in addition to being able to cope with phylloxera should this ever arrive on our shores. This probably accounts for its popularity.

I have personally grown Seyval Blanc for a number of years in the UK and it has coped well with the vagaries of the UK climate and shown so little sign of disease that it is rare for any corrective action to be necessary. I met one commercial grower (with a mixed vineyard) who told me that the only spraying his Seyval got was any left in the tank after he had sprayed the others!

The one exception is botrytis (or grey mould). This disease attacks very many if not all fruit if the conditions are right. It is further discussed under diseases.

Tables on the next two pages summarise the characteristics of each variety under the following headings:

Disease Resistance

Note that all vines are susceptible to botrytis and dead arm disease. The former can be controlled with chemical sprays if you have access to them (they are not available in garden centres). Unlike powdery mildew and botrytis, dead arm does not affect the bunches on the vine but will progressively reduce the number of bunches on the stem; infected shoots are simply removed and replaced with a healthy rod. The tables show the susceptibility to powdery mildew.

Timing

The timing of the harvest is a key factor in producing good wine. Unripe berries produce a ‘grassy’ flavoured wine and it is said that overripe berries tend to make ‘jam’ flavoured wine (I have never managed to over-ripen but have frequently under-ripened the berries - despite ‘global warming’). The table groups the vines into early, mid-season and late. It is not possible to give dates for these because it depend on where you are (macro-climate), how good the site is (micro-climate) and the weather in that season, but in a ‘typical’ year in the south (say the RHS garden at Wisley) ‘early’ generally means in the four weeks commencing mid-September, ‘mid-season’ commences about two weeks later and ‘late’ about two weeks later still.

» White grape varieties

» Black grape varieties

» Summary of grape characteristics.

» Next topic Planting and growing tips

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